RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — For more than 30 years Blanche Taylor Moore has claimed she is innocent and should not be on North Carolina’s death row. Her appeals, though, have failed.
Neither her bout with cancer nor a death sentence has taken her life. Now, she is the oldest woman in the United States on death row, and as she turns 90 years old on Friday, it seems more likely that she will die naturally than by lethal injection.
North Carolina has not executed anyone since 2006. Moore is housed at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh.
Moore’s case was one that gripped the state and the nation. It’s a case that started after her second husband, the Rev. Dwight Moore, became severely ill and was hospitalized. Doctors at the University of North Carolina eventually that found he had 20 times the lethal dose of arsenic in his system.
Somehow Rev. Moore survived, but he was the lucky one. Investigators soon realized that they needed to back in time, starting with the death of Raymond Reid, Moore’s previous boyfriend.
Dr. John Butts was the state’s chief medical examiner at the time.
“When you look at the medical history…in the case of Mr. Reid, it was very suspicious for arsenic poisoning,” he said. “He had gotten violently ill, developed gastroenteritis, later developed a neuropathy and nerve damage and never got better and died.”
Doctors previously thought that Reid had suffered from Guillain-Barre syndrome, which has similar symptoms to arsenic poisoning. That led Butts to ask the district attorney for permission to exhume Reid’s body.
“When we examined Mr. Reid, we found that his tissues contained lethal concentrations of arsenic and, of course, as earlier mentioned, the medical record was pretty classic for repeated episodes of arsenic poisoning,” Butts said.
It was a painful death. Butts explained that “people will become very ill, vomit, develop diarrhea, they may develop a rash, and then maybe a week or two later they’ll develop neurological signs, these involve tingling, odd sensations, burning sensations, beginning in the hands and feet and then begging to go centrally.”
Testing proved that Reid was slowly poisoned.
“The fact that it had persisted for something like four months, of course, indicated that if his death was due to poisoning, it had occurred on multiple occasions,” Butts said. “Not just one episode, because if it had just been one episode, he would have died from it.”
How did Butts know the level of arsenic poisoning? Reid’s hair.
When strands of hair were tested you could see the timeline of arsenic exposure. And just like Rev. Moore, investigators believed the woman who would become known as the “Black Widow” gave Raymond Reid arsenic-laced food and drink while in the hospital.
Now, the exhumation of one body wasn’t enough.
“Then began a process of sort of examining all the folks who, as they used to joke about it, were deceased and had something to do with Blanche,” Butts said.
The remains of her former husband, James Taylor, were soon exhumed; so was Moore’s father P.D. Kiser Sr. and her mother-in-law, Isla Taylor. The hair from all of them showed high levels of arsenic. Only the last exhumed body, that of Blanche Moore’s former co-worker Joseph Mitchell, showed no levels of arsenic.
The Alamance County District Attorney chose to focus the case on Reid’s death. Three years after his excruciating death from arsenic poisoning, a jury found Blanche Taylor Moore guilty of murder, and the judge sent her to death row.
Now retired, Butts has provided medical facts and evidence for countless murder cases. He remembers a lot of them. The case of Blanche Taylor Moore is no exception.
“Because it did involve a complicated case, multiple exhumations, arsenic, poisonings, again one that one would not forget,” he said.